Polical policeman using a spy camera for street surveillance
Indymedia and British Intelligence Services
Being the ‘activist hub’ it is, Indymedia is surely ‘kept an eye on’. Since it was established in 1999, the network has had many encounters with ’security’ services, both in the UK and elsewhere in the world. From assaulting Indymedia reports and photographers, IMC volunteers being put under surveillence, to seizing the actual servers where Indymedia sites are hosted.
Yet, it is not that common for dedicated IMCers to be approached directly by MI5 or Special Branch officers, trying to recruit them as spies, when they already know who they are and what they do.
Following the American pattern after 9/11, the UK government has used its own alleged terrorist attacks to push towards a police state, which is not exactly a new phenomenon, as Nafeez Ahmed, for example, explains. This has involved increasing the funds allocated to ’security services’ and granting them extra-judicial powers; the systematic assault on civil liberties and human rights; media-spun fear based on dubious ‘terror plots’; the clamp-down on activists and the relentless attempts to infiltrate their networks. Even Indymedia, it seems, has not been spared. At least two Indymedia activists have recently been, in one way or another, approached by British intelligence services, offering them better-paid jobs.
For the first time in its nearly-100-year history, the MI6 last April openly advertised in the British press for recruitments. The Secret Intelligence Service had also launched a website a few months before, supplying a P.O. box number where people could apply for jobs. The agency already has a total staff of some 2,000 (the actual figure is an ‘official secret’) and its budget has increased significantly over the last few years, but nothing compared to the fast-expanding domestic security service, MI5.
Within a context of media-fuelled terrorism hysteria, this was widely portrayed (or, rather, justified) as the increasing need for security. Almost none of the ‘highly professional’ corporate media mentioned that, between them, British intelligence agencies (MI5, MI6 and GCHQ) spend £1.5 billion of taxpayers’ money annually; that the ‘intelligence budget’ has increased by about 35% since 2001. Compare this to the £56,529m spent on education in England in 2005-2006. Billions more are spent on the various police forces, which include the Special Branch and the Anti-Terrorism Branch. And the increase in the ‘defence’ budget from £29.7bn in 2004/05 to £33.4bn in 2007/08 is a whole separate story.
To cope with the ‘growing terrorist threat’, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, the Director-General of MI5, has recently ’switched’ another £16 million of her annual budget (some £200 million) towards ‘fighting international terrorism’. Over 70% of all MI5 resources is now supposed to be directed at ‘counter-terrorism operations’. But the agency, which is planning to open 8 new regional offices around the country, is still actively recruiting people, in a bid to increase its ‘workforce’ from the current (declared) 2,800 to around 3,500 by 2008. One of the funniest ways to do that was striking a deal with gymnasium chain Fitness First last July to put up MI5 recruitment posters in its women’s changing rooms. The poster featured the back view of a black woman with an African hairstyle. According to official figures, about 14 per cent of new recruits in the past financial year were from ethnic minorities.
In 2003, StateWatch published a special report on the role of the Special Branch, dubbed as ‘political police’, in conducting surveillance operations for MI5. It revealed that the number of police Special Branch officers had more than doubled in size, from 1,638 in 1978 to 4,247 in 2002. In addition, it now has far more civilian staff and means for mass surveillance of telecommunications and the payment of informers, which it never had in those days.